Monday, November 26, 2007

Extraordinary Machine - 1

Although my seven-year old Mac Pismo had proven perennially expandable and well nigh indestructible, it was having trouble keeping up with its younger siblings and it wouldn't accept some of the new software upgrades, so on Friday evening two weeks ago I stopped by the Mac store and got a shiny new 15" MacBook Pro.

A new Mac! Too excited to wait until I got home, I opened up the box while I was waiting for takeout. As people around me were wolfing down their messy chili fries and poutine, I removed the styrofoam biscuit and slipped my new laptop out the envelope of soft fabric that enclosed it. The packaging was sleek and functional, but I wouldn't have been surprised to find the device tied up with colourful ribbons or folded inside a large square of silk, like some sacred temple artifact.

The brushed aluminum surface was like cool satin under my fingertips. I touched the button on the front and the cover popped open as if eager to grant me entry. I pressed the power button and the screen came to life in a fan of aurora borealis colour over top of a black, star-speckled backdrop. An ambient groove played over the small speakers, welcoming me to the Leopard experience. I stroked the silver keyboard and trackpad and felt something akin to religious awe, as if in those moments a small cluster of winged sylphs had emerged from the machine and now hovered in the air above my head.

And then my food was ready, and I hastened to put the computer back in its box and collect my order. At home, after dinner, the machine led me through the set-up procedure and I completed forms with my personal information. Suddenly my face appeared in the on-screen window and the set-up assistant instructed me to press the red camera icon. When I did this the screen flashed bright white. The assistant asked me if I wanted to use the resulting photo on my profile. "Sure," I said. "Why not?"

Once the computer and I were properly introduced, I set about familiarizing myself with the new environment. Among the many new features included in the upgrade, Leopard introduces some fresh solutions for organizing your work. Mac users no longer have to wade through a desktop cluttered with downloaded files, or find that they've lost track of their primary task under a pile of open application windows. In Leopard, the workspace is fluid and flexible. It expands, breaks, slides, flips, pops open and folds back up again. Apple has always been known for creating intuitive and redundant processes, and 10.5 maintains that tradition: you can access different views by mousing into the corners or the edges of the screen, by selecting items in the dock, by mouse clicks and by F-key commands.

Two new features provide novel ways to manage files and workspaces: Stacks sit in the Dock, and with a click they pop open vertically, revealing all your downloads or documents in a long chain. Spaces allows you to multiply your desktop and put different groupings of work on different desktops. To move work around between desktops, you just drag it from one space and drop it into another.

Except for the addition of a reflective silver platform, the Dock is the same, but the Dashboard is new. Dashboard is Apple's answer to widget-based user-built spaces like those offered by Firefox, Google, Opera and Netvibes. And as usual, Apple does it better: not only can you create your own Dashboard widgets directly from Safari with a simple clip and drag, you don't even need to open a browser to access your widgets for Wikipedia, Google, Calendar, Mail, YouTube, iTunes, Movie or TV schedule, Weather, Calculator, Yellow Pages, and many others. Clicking on the speedometer icon in the Dock brings your custom Dashboard to the forefront, overlaying and dimming other items on your desktop. Another click and the dashboard slides away, leaving your desktop as it was.

Time Machine is a automated back-up function that makes copies of all your files at regular intervals and stores two weeks of changes on an external hard drive, so if you lose something, you only have to scroll back through Time Machine's chronological files to locate the version you need.

The updated Finder adds a graphic preview feature that shows the contents of a file sliding across a mirrored black stage. Each image or document or application appears in miniature and takes its place in the spotlight when you scroll to it or click on it. This allows you the convenience of viewing the contents of your file in the Finder window before opening it up on the desktop.

This brief review covers only a small part of the magic that is MacIntosh. Stay tuned for part two, coming tomorrow.


Aaron said...

Thanks for the posting. I was thinking that it's time for a new laptop, and the idea of buying an Apple came to me out of the clear blue sky. And, lo and behold, someone thoughtfully posts their impressions of Apple's new machine. I look forward to part 2.

Dawn Coyote said...

You won't be sorry. But don't just take my word for it...Mac OS X Leopard: A perfect 10

Catnapping said...

new toys are so much fun! i don't have apple. wouldn't know how to use them. was weaned on microsoft.

i love that you'll be able to do stuff using your tv screen, lazing back on the couch.

the next toy i'm saving for is a wacom, or wacom type pencil and tablet. this trying to draw with a nuts.

Dawn Coyote said...

The beauty of Mac is that you don't have to know how to use it. It's so easy to pick it up. And Windows is styled after the Mac environment, anyway, so there's be a lot of transferable stuff.

One of the salesmen at the Mac store was showing my mom a drawing/painting device that's probably like the wacom. I'm trying to get her to buy an iMac. On the other hand, it's her birthday in three weeks. She's going to be 70! And still feisty and fit as anything. She's like an Energizer Bunny, only cuter.